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origins of our words and phrases

English is a curious melting pot of words from dozens of languages, cultures and historical events. Wars, invasions, scientific and cultural developments and colonial expansion have been only a few of the events that have shaped the language that we speak today.

The English language has approximately 750,000 words but we are surprisingly unaware of where many of the words and phrases that we use every day come from. Sloto Cash casino takes us on a journey of exploration and discovery to find out more about some of the terms and expressions that we use every day.


The ketchup that we know today has come a long way from kê-tsiap, a Hokkien Chinese word that refers to a  sauce derived from fermented fish. 17th century traders originally brought kê-tsiap from Vietnam to southeastern China and British explorers tried to replicate the fermented dark sauce of pickled fish and spices back in the motherland. The first reference to “catchup” appears in a 1690 dictionary.


Cappuccio means “hood” in Italian and refers to the hoods that the Capuchin monks wore as part of their habits. The habits and hoods were a dark, oak brown color, similar to the color of a cup of cappuccino.

Cappuccios were evidently popular in Austria where, in 1790, Wilhelm Tissot recorded a recipe for a Kapuzinerkaffee (lit. “Capuchin coffee”). That Kapuzinerkaffee contained coffee, sugar, cream and egg yolks and if the espresso and foamed milk of today aren’t enough for you, you can still find Kapuzinerkaffee in certain parts of Austria.


The word for whiskey can be traced back to “uisge beatha”, a Gaelic word which means “water of life.” An interesting way to look at this beverage but……that’s what we have.

Blood on His Hands

The phrase “blood on his hands” is similar to the phrase “caught red-handed” and refers to how someone is identified as having killed someone or something by the blood found on their hands. An old English law stated that if someone butchered someone else’s animal, there would only be a punishment if he was caught with blood on his hands. Even if someone had the animal’s meat, if his hands were clean he wouldn’t be punished.


In 17th century England, gamers played a game called “hand-in-cap” in which two participants would present two possessions they would like to trade. An umpire would determine whether or not the possessions were of equal value. If they weren’t, the umpire would calculate the discrepancy and the difference would be made up with money.

If the two players agreed, the money would be placed into a hat and all 3 participants would remove their hands from the hat, keeping their palms open. If anyone disagreed, they would remove their hand from the hat in a clenched fist. The umpire would get the money if the 2 participants either both agreed or disagreed but if only one agreed and the other didn’t, the participant who approved the transaction would receive the money.

Over time, the term “handicap” started to be used to refer to any kind of balancing or equalization of a contest or game. The best-known use of the word in the sporting world involves horse racing where the umpire can add more weight to a horse so that it runs equally to its competitors. Slowly the notion of being put at a disadvantage or burdened came to be used to describe people with disabilities.

Rain Cats and Dogs

Some believe that the saying “it’s raining cats and dogs” originated in 16th century England when cats and dogs would snuggle in the thatched roofs of English houses, trying to stay warm. If it would rain too heavily, the cats and dogs could slip off, making it look like the rain included cats and dogs.

There’s a second explanation too – in Norse mythology, dogs were associated with the God of storms while cats symbolised heavy rains.


It’s not clear where the term “hooligan” came from. Its roots are most likely Irish and may refer to a family called “Houlihan” which was mentioned in an old 19th century song as a raucous family.

Others trace it back to the 1745 Jacobite uprising when an English commander heard the Scots referring to insect midges as “meanbh-chuileags” – and created the word “hooligan” to describe the pesky midges.

Over time “hooligan” came to describe anyone or anything that was as irritating as the pesky insects.

Don’t Look a Gift Horse in the Mouth

At one time, people would check a horse’s teeth to determine its age and general health. That assessment would allow them to decide whether or not they were going to proceed with the purchase. The phrase “don’t look a gift horse in the mouth” refers to the reminder that, if something is given to you as a gift, it would be rude to check it too thoroughly.


In Greek mythology, Theseus entered the Labyrinth (another modern word) to kill a mythical bull-headed creature called a Minotaur. According to the story, Theseus unraveled a ball of thread or string, called a “clew” which would allow him to find his way back out of the maze. Today we follow “clues” to guide us to find the solution to a mystery.

Best Man

We know the term “best man” as a groom’s male friend or relative who stands up for him at his wedding. The term comes from feudal times when the wedding party was forced to designate someone to help guard the bride from being kidnapped by a rival Lord. The groom’s friend, his “Best Man” was tasked with standing at the altar during the ceremony at the ready to help in event of a fight.


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